Fur trappers in the Northwest Territories are gearing up for a good season, and a new reality TV show is drawing renewed interest to a very old-fashioned profession.
Last year was one of the best years for prices in a long time. Trappers are hoping for a repeat performance this year.
"We had record sales," says Francois Rossouw, a fur marketer with the territorial government. "Record being that we never experienced valuations [for marten] like this on record. It was phenomenal."
The going rate for marten fur is about $150 per pelt. There's also a big appetite right now for muskrat, especially in China — a market where N.W.T. furs are in high demand.
"Through a series of education programs we've run with the fur harvesters … at trade shows, [we've taught] Chinese manufacturers about wild fur and how unique it is in comparison to ranch fur," Rossouw says.
But it's not just the furs that are coming back into fashion: it's also the lifestyle.
The number of trappers working in the N.W.T. has remained pretty consistent for the past decade or so, but collectively, it's a workforce that's aging rapidly.
Today, the Internet and popular culture are helping to shine a spotlight on people out on the land.
A new reality series about a trapper near Hay River is painting the lifestyle in a positive light. "It looks cool and it makes harvesting cool," Rossouw says.
A Facebook page put together by the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board also helps, letting hunters and trappers post pictures and observations about what they see and do while out on the land.
"You definitely see an appreciation and respect for really good hunters and trappers, and maybe being able to share it on Facebook and YouTube can help the younger generation see it as an option," Rossouw says.
Major international fur auctions to be held in March and May in Helsinki will give a good glimpse as to whether the N.W.T.'s fur boom has staying power.